Kominers’s Conundrums: Groundhogging the Dark Side of Things

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Tuesday, heralding six more weeks of winter. But not everyone’s unhappy with him. At Conundrums, we’ve discovered an entire club of darkness devotees who love all things gloomy and are hoping to fix it so that Phil sees his shadow every year!

With the help of the Conundrums Compass, we found the online forum where individuals in this group adopt alter egos so they can talk shade and make shadow puns.  By adopting a shadowy pseudonym ourselves and lurking in the background, we’ve managed to learn a bit about who they are, presented in the clues below.

Can you identify these shadowy figures? 

As always, you’re welcome to work with friends, family and/or the internet.

The numbers after each clue indicate the number of letters, not counting spaces or punctuation. But as you start solving, you might find yourself thinking that some names don’t quite fit. That’s because part of each name seems to have been obscured by something. You might even say they’ve been overshadowed.

Once you’ve uncovered who everyone is, you should be able to string together some of their initials to spell out what we need to do in order to have hope of a shadow-free Groundhog Day in 2022. That is this week’s answer.

  • Shire denizen who darkened after finding a ring in his pocket (13)
  • European political philosopher known for making social contracts in unenlightened times (17)
  • Bosnian Nobel laureate who lived through dark times before bridging the Drina (12)
  • Inventor friend of Scrooge and Donald who’s often in need of a lightbulb (15)
  • Bloom County schoolteacher whose role was sunset  in the 1980s (11)
  • Massachusetts naturalist who walled himself in next to a pond so he could live in the dark (16)
  • Italian philosopher-novelist who wrote of semiotics and the Apocalypse (13)
  • Devilish child with a penchant for fruits who only trusts pirates in straw hats and one piece suits (11)
  • Heisman Trophy winner known for prayer and Jet setting before going over to the dark side (i.e., the Mets) (9)
  • Illusionist and escape artist whose stunts turned a bit grim when he first moved to Hollywood (13)
  • Nervous, savantish stand-up known for performing dark comedy in falsetto (13)
  • MSNBC host who just recently sold her apartment in New York’s setting sun village (12)
  • American cartoonist who chronicled mortal fools and murky politicians, then changed his name and later sold his father’s puck (13)
  • Spanish Cubist whose blues lasted for a multi-year period (13)

If you manage to shed a bit of light on the situation — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, February 11.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer.

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on February 14.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

Our stonks Conundrum had us seeking to decode six cryptic messages written in ticker symbols, each of which described an opportunity that meme investors were supposedly getting excited about. Each message had a different decoding method, clued obliquely in an introductory line.

First, we’ve been seeing this message repeatedly:


“First” suggested looking at the initial letters of each symbol, and indeed doing this spelled out the word HEDGE (“repeatedly”).

This one, meanwhile, seems especially hard to translate even once received — it appears somewhat foreign:


This one featured six ticker symbols which, if you look closely, turned out to not be the standard symbols for their associated companies. Instead, most are the tickers of the “foreign receipts” of the companies in question (a way to trade overseas stocks in the US market system); two of the tickers were the Frankfurt listing of companies foreign to Germany. In both cases, solvers had to identify the companies and put together their “ordinary” ticker symbols — ORDI NA RY INVE STM ENT — which spelled out ORDINARY INVESTMENT.

We’ve also had trouble making sense of this readout:


The word “readout” suggested that the answer could be read out of the ticker symbols directly somehow. And indeed, if you squint at the symbols you can make out LONG RUN STOCKS, spelled from the repeated letters in each symbol (LL OO NN GGG RR UUUU NN SS TT OO CC KK SS).

This message seems to have been started in mixed company:


The word “company” was a hint that the answer somehow required linking the symbols to their associated companies. Upon doing so, solvers would discover that all of their names had different first letters from their ticker symbols (a nod to the clue word “mixed”): Del Taco, Insulet Corp., Virgin Galactic, Exxon, Realty Income Corp, Southwest, Invitae Corp., Ferrari, iStar Inc., Eastman Kodak, and Dave & Buster’s. Reading those first letters in order spelled out DIVERSIFIED.

And some of these symbols have cropped up in numerous places:


The word “numerous” pointed to the fact — quickly noticeable upon inspection — that some of the ticker symbols (like ONEM and FOUR) seemed to involve numbers. In fact, every other symbol could be mapped to a number between one and four — even “F” for “Ford,” or as we might say, “Four-d.” Mapping those numbers into the other symbols in order spelled out INDEX FUNDS.

New posters seem to issue this statement repeatedly for about a year before maturing and losing interest:


For this last one, the clue directly suggested the answer: What matures and lacks interest but T-BILLS, which was spelled out by the letters adjacent to the initial “T”s in each symbol.

Amusingly, the investment opportunities described were substantially more mundane (and less volatile) than the stonks of yesteryear. Additionally, each answer obliquely described the method of encoding:

  • “HEDGE” was found using the “head” letters of each symbol;
  • “ORDINARY INVESTMENT” was obtained by converting the given ticker symbols to ordinary ones;
  • “LONG RUN STOCKS” was spelled out in stocks with long runs of letters;
  • “DIVERSIFIED” was spelled with company names that were alphabetically diversified from their tickers;
  • “INDEX FUNDS” was obtained by indexing the number-themed symbols into the other ones; and
  • “T-BILLS,” as already mentioned, was obtained by pulling out the letters indicated by “T”s.

Stacking all six solutions together and reading off their first letters gave the overall answer, which we had hinted was “what someone who’s thinking about starting up a stonk revolution might want to do with their portfolio instead:” HOLD IT!

We also indicated that there was a bonus answer hidden in the ticker symbols that were in bold. This was a final “‘Easter Egg’ courtesy of our sponsors,” which also described its own method of encoding: Putting all the bolded symbols together and looking at their last letters spelled out “LOOK AT THE TERMINALS:”


John Owens solved first, submitting a spectacular emoji solution for every individual sub-puzzle, followed by Zoz;* Michael Thaler; Murray & Nancy Stern; Dan Rubin & Jennifer Walsh;* Zarin Pathan; Ellen & Bill Kominers; and Darren Fink, Dina Teodoro & Amanda Abado.* (Asterisks indicate solvers who also completed the bonus puzzle.)

The Bonus Round

Two hundred puzzles, fifty weeks later” — a Galactic-scale rundown on this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt (hat tip: Chris Peterson). Explore gravitational wave events; play Minesweeper, but with hexagons (and note: Hex implies Y). Hi-fi Mario music; the 8-bit Wellerman (hat tip: Jiafeng Chen); Lego Sonic; and Big Bird(s) around the world. Wood turning a bowling ball; 100 years of a classic magic trick (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers). And inquiring minds want to know: What, precisely, is “white noise?”

Also: don’t miss your last chance to catch David Kwong’s spectacular live puzzle show, Inside the Box!

“I heard that Thor put some rouge on his brother’s cheeks! It was pretty Loki.” “My new shadow puppet theater should make a fortune! But of course that’s just projected figures.”

Note: Groundhog Day 2022 (2/2/22) will in fact be another palindrome-ambigram-Groundhog Day, whose date reads the same forwards, backwards, and rotated 180 degrees! (More about those kinds of dates here).

This one turned out to be the hardest of the set – to our knowledge, nobody came up with the intended solution, although many solvers obtained the alternate answer “ON RISE” by writing the companies' names as an acrostic.


The idea of looking at the last letters of each symbol was clued by the word "finally" in the text, as well as the words "last bit" in an associated footnote.

And thanks again to our Senior Conundrums Analyst who helped track down all these ticker messages!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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